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The Rite That Mormons Call Baptism. Is It Christian?

Holy Baptism | St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Calgary.

Human souls are risk when they are subject to erroneous teaching. Thus, to encourage someone to abandon error, it is entirely justifiable—and a christian duty—to identify for him those doctrines which hinder him from apprehending the Truth as taught by Jesus Christ and preserved in its fullness by His Church, the Catholic Church. It is a spiritual work of mercy to instruct the ignorant. It is important, of course, that dialogue be grounded in charity. Browbeating someone with the facts, for example, and it is vitally important to know and share the facts, is not an effective means whereby the Truth is shared and embraced. Rather, we invite a person earnestly seeking the Truth to consider seriously the data of the Faith. We invite him to consider the teaching of Jesus Christ handed down by the Apostles and preserved by the Church Jesus Himself founded upon the Apostles, the Catholic Church. We invite the seeker to enter into conversation with Jesus and His Church.

We must be prepared to assist people by being confident worshippers of the True God: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. We must be prepared "to make a defence to any one who calls (us) to account for the hope that is in (us)," and "do it with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15)."

(Christ's) gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.—The Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians 4: 11-16.

We invite the seeker to encounter Jesus in the sacrificial banquet of the Lord. We invite the earnest seeker to encounter Jesus in the Mass, for Jesus is present there: in the person of the priest through whom Jesus makes Himself present in the Eucharist; in the word of God (Holy Scripture); in the assembly gathered in Jesus' Name; and most sublimely, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist.

The Medicine of Authentic Catechesis

The identification of false and misleading teaching may be compared to that process of identifying those substances which contribute to physical illness. Death may result from repeatedly consuming something that gradually degrades the body. Or, death may be immediate when a deadly toxin is introduced. If a host is not inoculated against disease by the medicine of authentic catechesis, error erodes and can destroy spiritual health.

The following paragraph is from an official Canadian website of the Mormon religion.

Who do Mormons believe Jesus Christ is?

Like most Christians, Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Creator of the World. However, Mormons hold the unique belief that God the Father and Jesus Christ are two distinct beings (binitarianism: see below). Mormons believe that God and Jesus Christ are wholly united in their perfect love for us, but that each is a distinct personage with His own perfect, glorified body (D&C 130:22).

Mormons believe that all men and women ever to be born, including Jesus Christ, lived with God as His spirit children before this life.

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What are the implications of a false notion about Who God is? How does one's understanding of God (theology) condition one's faith?

A correct understanding of God is crucial to one's relationship with God. Worshipping a false god is idolatry, a violation of the First Commandment (Exodus 20:3). Worshipping a false god leads to spiritual disease and death.

Mormons, that is, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, are to be praised for their devotion to family and for their missionary zeal. Mormon doctrine concerning the nature of God, however, is highly problematic. The Mormon understanding of the nature of God differs widely from orthodox Christian teaching. Because the Mormon god is not the orthodox Christian God, i.e., the God of revelation, the rite that Mormon's call baptism is not Christian.

Why (or how) is the Mormon rite of baptism not a Christian rite?

Catholic Answers

2. (In) the Book of Mormon (1830), there are no references to a plurality of gods. At best, there is a confusion, at times, between the Father and the Son, leading at times to the extreme of modalism (one divine person who reveals himself sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son) or the other extreme of "binitarianism," belief in two persons in God. The Book of Mormon also makes a strong point for God’s spiritual and eternal unity (see Alma 11:44 and 22:10-11, which proclaims that God is the "Great Spirit").

8. "Thou shalt not have strange gods before me." What is stranger than a God who starts off as a single Spirit, eternal and all-powerful; who then becomes, perhaps, two gods in one, and then three; who never changes, yet was once born a man, lived, sinned, repented, and died; who was made God the Father of this world by his own God; and who will make his own children gods someday of their own worlds? 

That all believing Christians are shocked and disturbed by this blasphemy may—just may—be nudging the Mormon leadership to soften their rhetoric (if not actually change their heresy). A case in point is an interview with current church prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, published in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 13, 1997. When asked: "[D]on’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?" Hinckley demurred. "I wouldn’t say that. There’s a little couplet coined, ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’ Now, that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about" (3/Z1).

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Msgr. M. Francis Mannion speaks to the Mormon confusion about the nature of God.

The Church has a generous view of what constitutes valid baptism, and it generally recognizes the baptism of all kinds of Christian communities. Indeed, it even recognizes the baptism of someone by a non-Christian if the baptizer intended to do what orthodox Christians mean by baptism. 

The problem with Mormon baptism is not with its use of immersion and the Trinitarian formula — which it follows — but with the Mormon understanding of God. On the face of it, the Mormon formula for baptism sounds quite orthodox, but when examined carefully it differs radically from what Christians have traditionally meant by God and the Trinity. 

For Mormons, God is an exalted man, an inhabitant of a physical world like our own. He has a wife, many children and relatives. In fact, four gods are directly responsible for the universe. Three of them established a covenant and thus formed the divinity. But this divinity is not at all Trinitarian. Most Mormon theologians deny the traditional doctrine of the Trinity. The titles of Father, Son and Holy Spirit have, for Mormons, an entirely different meaning from the orthodox Christian understanding. 

The Catholic denial of the validity of Mormon baptism does not in any way deny the truth that Mormons (and members of other religions) may be saved. Nor is it meant to demonstrate disrespect. (Mormon church leadership has no problem with the fact that the Catholic Church does not recognize its baptism; they, in turn, do not recognize traditional Christian baptism and readily recognize that two very different concepts of God and baptism are at play here.)

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Let us give the final word to the Holy See.

II. The Form. We have seen that in the texts of the Magisterium on Baptism there is a reference to the invocation of the Trinity (to the sources already mentioned, the Fourth Lateran Council could be added here [DH 8021). The formula used by the Mormons might seem at first sight to be a Trinitarian formula. The text states: "Being commissioned by Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (cf. D&C 20:73). The similarities with the formula used by the Catholic Church are at first sight obvious, but in reality they are only apparent. There is not in fact a fundamental doctrinal agreement. There is not a true invocation of the Trinity because the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not the three persons in which subsists the one Godhead, but three gods who form one divinity. One is different from the other, even though they exist in perfect harmony (Joseph F. Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [TPJSI, Salt Lake City: Desert Book, 1976, p. 372). The very word divinity has only a functional, not a substantial content, because the divinity originates when the three gods decided to unite and form the divinity to bring about human salvation (Encyclopaedia of Mormonism [EM], New York: Macmillan, 1992, cf. Vol. 2, p. 552). This divinity and man share the same nature and they are substantially equal. God the Father is an exalted man, native of another planet, who has acquired his divine status through a death similar to that of human beings, the necessary way to divinization (cf. TPJS, pp. 345-346). God the Father has relatives and this is explained by the doctrine of infinite regression of the gods who initially were mortal (cf. TPJS, p. 373). God the Father has a wife, the Heavenly Mother, with whom he shares the responsibility of creation. They procreate sons in the spiritual world. Their firstborn is Jesus Christ, equal to all men, who has acquired his divinity in a pre-mortal existence. Even the Holy Spirit is the son of heavenly parents. The Son and the Holy Spirit were procreated after the beginning of the creation of the world known to us (cf. EM, Vol. 2, p. 961). Four gods are directly responsible for the universe, three of whom have established a covenant and thus form the divinity.


Summing up, we can say: The Baptism of the Catholic Church and that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints differ essentially, both for what concerns faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in whose name Baptism is conferred, and for what concerns the relationship to Christ who instituted it. As a result of all this, it is understood that the Catholic Church has to consider invalid, that is to say, cannot consider true Baptism, the rite given that name by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Bottom Line

Mormons do not hold the orthodox Christian belief concerning the nature of God. Mormon baptism, therefore, cannot possibly be Christian baptism.